Before our first child was born, we dutifully went on tours of eleventy-thousand pediatricians’ offices. This was one of the many things I knew we were "supposed" to do to prepare to be good and exceptional parents. We were in Los Angeles, so "whoever is closest" was not a good enough reason to choose anything.
You had to hunt. You had to gather. You had to at least go check out Bradley Cooper's pediatrician! You also had to tour all the preschools and interview all the doulas and register for all the Mommy and Me classes and eat that one salad just called "The Salad" that everyone swore would send you into labor.
When you first get pregnant, the list of things you’ll need to birth and care for your baby seems simple enough: car seat, stroller, bathtub, diapers, wipes. But you quickly come to find out that these choices aren’t just choices—they’re a reflection of who you are, or who you want to be, as a parent.
Are you the kind of parent who only buys organic? Are you a ruffles-on-everything parent or a minimalist parent? Are you a plastic-toy parent or a wooden Montessori parent? Are you a fit parent who will jog, even when you’re existing on no sleep and cold burgers you couldn’t bear to take the time to warm up because you are too tired to operate the microwave? Or are you a “wear my jammies on a walk” parent, unafraid to let everyone know you’ve basically given up?
It feels like you better make the perfect choice and do it right every single time. Because if you don’t, not only are you risking being labeled sub-par as a parent, you’re also maybe going to deny your child the one thing that would have made them happy, shiny, and loved.
I remember how overwhelming this was before my daughter was born. My husband and I bored friends and family alike with endless circular conversations about stroller pros and cons, car seat widths, and the always fascinating will we/won’t we of disposal versus washable diapers. (We went disposable, my apologies to the environment.) I remember in those days spending ages watching videos of infants being washed in the “Tummy Tub,” a baby bathtub shaped like a bucket. Their videos featured concerned but well-meaning nurses extolling the virtues of the tub—all its womb-like properties—while clips of serene babies bobbing in their bath buckets played beneath.
Was I the kind of mother who let her precious baby freeze in an inferior lay-flat tub or was I a “good mom” who cared about her baby’s well-being and would shell out the $50 for the full-body dunk version? (I bought one, only to give birth to an enormous baby who did not, I repeat did not, want to be dunked in a plastic bucket for baths.)
It wasn’t until we were several rounds into our hunt for the right pediatrician—one who cared about breastfeeding, who would be flexible with a vaccination schedule, who didn’t “overprescribe”—(all things that we were told to care about but that I now know, three kids in, aren’t what matters) that we met our match.
The doctor we ultimately chose, I’ll call him Dr. B., was not a coveted LA doctor. He wasn’t Bradley’s pediatrician. He wasn’t a naturopath, and his office didn’t boast a luxe waiting room or an over-priced wooden play kitchen for squirmy kids to destroy before their appointments. Dr. B himself was also lacking in bells and whistles. From his demeanor I imagined that a put-upon assistant had forced him, against his will, to have these “free consultations” with terrified newbies.
He listened politely as my husband and I asked him halting questions about philosophy and technique and schedules. When we finished, he waited a beat, sizing us up. "At some point,” he finally told us, “You have to limit the amount of information you take in."
There was, he explained, no amount of data that would tell us exactly what we should and shouldn't do. We were paddling hard and fast through all the shoulds and musts and if you don’ts, and we had begun to feel that we were turning in circles. Dr. B taught us that, eventually, we would have to turn off the spigot of advice and just act.
This was a revelation. I remember a great exhale taking over the room. He knew what we didn’t yet know. That every choice you make for your child will leave you subject to the same bottomless rabbit hole of options—if you let it.
New parents are susceptible to the hunt because we care so much. Pregnant women walk around with our futures in our bellies. We are closer to this tiny being in our bodies than we’ve ever been to anyone since we lived in our own mothers. People on the street crown us glowing or lucky or warn us to watch out for any number of complications. We are mid-miracle and yet we know nothing except that we want to do well by this little stranger. We want to make the right choice so that she will not have to suffer. So that she will love herself unconditionally. So that she will know, all the way to the bones, the miracle that she is.
And we are told that if we buy the right things, choose the right doctors, eat the right foods, raise them in the right way, we will avoid the bad and run headlong into the good.
But what you’ll discover as you have kids, and those kids grow, is that there is only the way you do it now, and the way you’ll do it later, and every way in between. We bought a great stroller when our daughter was born but didn’t think about how it would be for two kids, so we bought a different one when we had our son. Then we got pregnant with our third baby earlier than we expected and needed yet another version, one that would fit three. All our kids went to more than one preschool because we picked the one that seemed best at the time and then it ended up not being a personality match, for whatever reason.
What I know now is that all of parenting is like this. And the only way to survive with your sanity intact is to limit the amount of information coming in. Everyone’s going to have advice and miracle products that made their baby sleep or poop or stop having tantrums. Take it all like water through your fingers. Only cup your hands together and drink when it makes sense for you.
You read one review of a car seat and went with that one? Perfect. You chose the preschool closest to your house even though everyone tells you to tour everything? No shame in that.
When I talk to pregnant friends today, I tell them there are only three questions you need to ask a prospective pediatrician:
Can I reach you after hours?
Can I get same-day appointments?
Will I see YOU when we get here?
There is enough to worry about when you have kids. Those early days are going to be hard and beautiful and mundane and magic and it’s going to feel like, no matter how hard you try, you never know enough.
If you know your baby’s face when they’re sleeping, you know enough.
If you know the sound they make when they’re hungry or tired or bored, if you know the smell of their head, first thing in the morning, then you know enough.
You’ll always, for the rest of your life, know nothing and everything about how to raise your kids. You don’t need to choose right, or honestly even all that well, in order to be the parent you want to be. Instead, you have one choice to make: you can turn off the spigot, and just act.